Monsters! Monsters! is a fascinating game. Keep in mind that the publication of role-playing games had only begun two years before. This was followed up with the 1975 release of “the poor man’s alternative to D&D”, Tunnels & Trolls. Monsters! Monsters! was released during America’s bicentennial and notice TSR’s response the next year. They produced the a “Basic Set” version of the D&D game and a game supplement dedicated entirely to monsters: The AD&D Monster Manual.
The fact is, TSR was hustling to catch up to the Phoenix gaming scene, because Tunnels & Trolls was arguably first on both counts. The “Number Two” fantasy role-playing game simply didn’t need a basic version. Heck, it was designed from the ground up as an answer to the “excessive complexity” of its chief competitor.
Of course, the simplicity of the game can be a little unnerving. The first edition of the game did not even include any example monsters, just a system for rating them and then running them based off of a single stat: their monster rating. The fourth edition of Tunnels & Trolls addressed that by included a chart of sample monsters with their ratings broken out by level. And though the famed Peters & Mcallister chart opened the way for players to create the now-traditional demi-human player characters of dwarf, elf, leprechaun, faerie, and hobbit extraction, monster fans were left with a few sketchy suggestions on how to scale up man-sized weapons for monster use and also allow your monsters to level up just like the player characters.
But there was more to be done here. And it soon was. Monsters! Monsters! took the elements of the Tunnels & Trolls game and reworked them to allow for fifty-two different monster types, all run with the same rules and resolution that was previously the domain of player characters alone. This seems like a perfectly natural thing today. After all, games like GURPS build player characters and monsters alike with the same point-build system. Of course, the designer of that game line had a little bit of help in that direction. He got his start in fantasy role-playing gaming by editing the Monsters! Monsters! manuscript for Metagaming Concepts!
Meanwhile the Tunnels & Trolls system would hold onto its distinctive innovation for quite some time. Kids with a copy of the Holmes “blue book” Basic Set D&D game would make do with cryptic references to being able to play a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man. Even the ponderous Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide would go on to include an entire page explaining why first class player character monsters were a bad idea, telling referees that they were virtually on their own on that point.
That’s a game changing 238 page hardback book that has room for anything and everything up to and including its notorious random harlot table. But the sort of thing that the guys in Phoenix had been doing for years at that point was still weirdly out of bounds.